Washington Redskins: NFL out of Touch, Behind the Times on Racial Issues

Stephen SonneveldCorrespondent IIINovember 15, 2012

HONOLULU, HI - FEBRUARY 5:  The Washington Redskins mascot stands on the sidelines during the 1995 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on February 5, 1995 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  The AFC defeated the NFC 41-13.  (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
George Rose/Getty Images

Q: What does the NFL, its sponsors, TV networks that broadcast the NFL and team owners, specifically Washington’s Daniel Snyder, have in common with Victoria’s Secret?

A: Nothing, because when the lingerie corporation was accused of racial insensitivity for appropriating American Indian imagery, such as using a Native headdress for a costume piece, they had the decency to apologize and remove the offending pieces from purchase and from broadcast.

When the NFL and team owners such as Snyder are accused of the same, they simply ignore it, holding steadfast that their precious 80-year sports tradition is more important than the impact such minstrelsy has on Native lives, and on non-Native perceptions.

Meanwhile, league and Washington team sponsors, such as Bank of America, and the television networks which broadcast NFL games (NBC, CBS, ESPN and FOX) are happy to continue spreading this racist word and profiting from it.

If the NFL, the owners, the sponsors and NBC, CBS, ESPN and FOX think propagating offensive racial slurs such as “red-skin” is indecent, then they have yet to do anything that would remove the pejorative term from the league.

Q: What does the NFL players union have in common with No Doubt?

A: Nothing, because when the rock band was accused of racial insensitivity for appropriating Native imagery for their “Looking Hot” video, they had the courage to acknowledge that, while their aim was not to be offensive, they would remove the video rather than continue hurting people.

The NFL players have no issue being on a team or playing against a team that employs a derogatory racial signifier for a name. They could boycott playing against a team with a racist name, but they choose not to. They could refuse to wear the team “colors," but they choose not to.

For public figures in this day and age, as detailed below, there is no such thing as tacit acceptance of a racist term, only the endorsement of such. If that’s not the kind of endorsement these players were after when they signed with the NFL, then they have yet to demonstrate otherwise.

This is the 11th week of the same NFL season where the racist term “red-skin” marks the 80th year as a team name. Before the season started, I published an article detailing the history of the team under the segregation practices of its founding owner George Preston Marshall, as well as current owner Synder’s apathy toward Native considerations.

As reported in that same article, I also contacted the NFLPA and the NFL commissioner to discern how a racist term could continue to be used as a team name in good conscience, but neither party responded.

Their silence is deafening in light of the events of the past two weeks.

In September, No Doubt released Push and Shove, their first album in a decade. The Orange County band debuted the video for their second single, “Looking Hot,” on November 2. E! Online summarized the Wild West burlesque: “Bassist Tony Kanal plays an American Indian locked up in a local prison who helps [lead singer Gwen Stefani] escape from her captors (all while rocking high heels and a headdress, natch). The smoking-hot Stefani is also seen dancing around a teepee as she sports colorful dresses and wears her blonde hair in long braids.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “After YouTube commenters criticized the imagery of the clip, No Doubt yanked the video.” The following day, the group issued a statement:

As a multi-racial band, our foundation is built upon both diversity and consideration for other cultures. Our intention with our new video was never to offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history. Although we consulted with Native American friends and Native American studies experts at the University of California, we realize now that we have offended people. This is of great concern to us and we are removing the video immediately. The music that inspired us when we started the band, and the community of friends, family, and fans that surrounds us was built upon respect, unity and inclusiveness. We sincerely apologize to the Native American community and anyone else offended by this video. Being hurtful to anyone is simply not who we are.

No Doubt’s mature and considerate response to the imagery and perceptions of Native people is in stark contrast to the NFL, which has been criticized for years and faced legal battles over the continued use of the disparaging term “Redskins,” yet will emblazon the term and Indian head image on anything it can sell, from shirts to bean bag games and even to couches. As I reported in July, “The D.C. franchise is the NFL's highest grossing ($345 million) and second-most valuable ($1.55 billion) [source: Forbes]… all earned on a racial epitaph.”

Four days following the ska band’s mea culpa, Victoria’s Secret found itself in hot water after debuting a Native-themed outfit at their annual fashion show. According to the Today Show, American model Karlie Kloss had the distinction of wearing the “feather headdress, buckskin bikini and turquoise jewelry.” Confusing matters was the inclusion of a leopard print bikini bottom, as the leopard is indigenous to Africa and southern Asia, not the Americas.

Among the critics was Native Appropriations, a blog dedicated to “countering stereotypes,” written by Adrienne K., a Cherokee woman pursuing her PhD.

She wrote of the fashion disaster, “Please, please tell me we all know this is wrong at this point? Do I need to link to the anti-headdress manifesto? The blackface-comparison post? The sexualization of Native women post? (Note: if you don't know why it's wrong, those are the places to find out.)”

The blog concluded, “This isn't 'fun,' this isn't a 'fantasy' character. This is about our cultures, our bodies, and our lives. Native people demand and deserve far more respect than this.”

Today reported that Victoria’s Secret responded to such criticism three days after the show, posting the following on Facebook and Twitter:

We are sorry that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset individuals. We sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone. Out of respect, we will not be including the outfit in any broadcast, marketing materials nor in any other way.

Kloss took to Twitter, as well, writing, "I am deeply sorry if what I wore during the VS Show offended anyone. I support VS's decision to remove the outfit from the broadcast."

Once again, an organization and a performer within that organization, though they meant no malice, possessed the empathy and the basic human decency to own their hurtful actions and apologize for them. The outfit will not be included on the event’s December 4 broadcast, yet the NFL and CBS, NBC, ESPN and FOX think nothing of smearing “red-skin” over the television and radio airwaves, week after week, season after season.

Q: Why does the NFL, team owners, players, sponsors and CBS, NBC, ESPN and FOX continue to spread and profit from what they have been told time and again is a racist word?

A: Because, unlike a rock band and a lingerie model, the NFL, team owners, players, sponsors and CBS, NBC, ESPN and FOX are out of touch and behind the times, and their inaction shows they lack the courage to do anything about it.